The Marseille Contract (1974)

US Title: The Destructors

screenshot from The Marseille Contract

Directed by: Robert Parrish
Screenwriter(s): Judd Bernard
Starring: Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn, James Mason, Maurice Ronet, Alexandra Stewart, Maureen Kerwin
Genre: Crime / Gangster / Thriller
Country: UK / FRA
Running time: 1h 31m
Rating: 7 out of 10

Steve Ventura (Quinn), a drug enforcement officer attached to the US embassy in Paris, is having an affair with his colleague’s wife, Rita (Stewart). One evening while they’re together, Rita’s husband is gunned down in a Parisian street. Ventura is certain that the murder was ordered by drug kingpin, Jacques Brizard (Mason). When Ventura himself is kidnapped but escapes before he too can be assassinated, naturally the conclusion that he jumps to is that he needs to hire a hitman to take care of Brizard.

The hitman, John Deray (Caine), comes highly recommended by Steve’s colleague in the French police, Inspector Briac (Ronet), whose only reason for not hiring him himself is that the French police don’t have the necessary expense accounts to pay for it. It turns out that Deray and Ventura are former colleagues, as Deray previously worked for British military intelligence. There’s a refreshing little scene where Steve asks John what happened to turn him into a hitman, and John tells him that he hasn’t changed at all. He just likes the shorter hours and better money for doing illegally what he previously did for much lower pay.

Deray ingratiates himself into Brizard’s organisation through Brizard’s daughter, Lucienne (Kerwin), whom he first engages in a high-speed car chase in the hills surrounding Marseille. If the scene seems familiar, it’s because it was staged by Remy Julienne (of Italian Job fame) and an almost identical scene was used as the opening of GoldenEye, also staged by Julienne with Pierce Brosnan and Famke Janssen. And both arguably call back to Sean Connery’s Bond racing Tilly Masterson in Goldfinger. Anyway, it’s a nice little scene for those who appreciate exotic cars and exotic locales, is what I’m saying.

The twist comes when Ventura realises that he can bring down Brizard and his empire by legal means, so he has to call off the hit, and he and Deray team up to try to do the right thing, albeit in the wrong way.

The Marseille Contract (known as The Destructors on its original US release) was not a success at the box office,, but it’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It’s directed with efficiency by Parrish (Casino Royale). It features three great performances from Quinn, Caine and Mason, who’s essentially playing the French version of his North by Northwest character, the outwardly respectable businessman who heads up a secret crime organisation. The action scenes are well-staged and actually thrilling. There’s a gallows humour running through the whole thing, which seems realistic and appropriate for people dealing with the grubby end of humanity. Paris and Marseilles look beautiful. In fact, almost everything about 1970s France looks beautiful.

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